Women Work For Nothing For Six Weeks Of The Year

Marc-Peter Pijper
Written by Marc-Peter Pijper February 18, 2023

Employees who are not skilled negotiators can be punished for their whole work lives with lower salaries. That is, a wage gap will persist. This is unfair!

The wage gap is a stone-cold fact

Imagine if, for the first six weeks of this year my daughters didn't get pocket money but my son did, simply because he's a boy. Isn't that seriously unfair? It goes without saying I didn't actually treat the girls differently. But this would be good preparation for their working life!

Data shows women in the Netherlands basically work for nothing for six weeks of the year compared to men.

Is the gender pay gap really that big? Yes! Are we as emancipated as people often claim? No! The wage gap is a stone-cold fact.

“As an employer, you are legally obliged to offer equal pay for equal work. But our experience says if pay is still negotiated, there’s little prospect of closing the wage gap.”

Failed legislation and low prestige

Let's start with numbers. Women in the Netherlands earn (on average) 36 percent less than men. Adjust for part-time work and the gap is 13 percent. In government, it’s 4 percent for work of equal value (adjusted for education, position, and some other things). In the business sector, it’s 7 percent. (Data from The Netherlands Statistics Agency.)

How can this be possible? Equal pay for women and men has been around since 1975!

The problem is that the legislation is often applied solely for punishing bad behaviour. Companies then push the boundaries, are not motivated to act, and all kinds of unintentional prejudices sustain the gap. A persistent idea is that women work more from an intrinsic motivation to care for others. They don’t attach as much value to status and salary as men. This shows up when women do more unpaid work. In professions where women are active, they are either underpaid or regarded with less prestige.

This prejudice has far-reaching consequences. In 1968, French feminist Évelyne Sullerot noted that professions in which women often work are generally regarded as lowly roles. Worse, if more women in professions do work previously done by men, salaries tend to fall in response.

Take education for example. At my children's primary school are just two male teachers. One is actually retired but continues to cover staff shortages. The rest are females. When I went to school, not so long ago, it was the other way round. As greater numbers of women have joined this profession, salaries have fallen proportionally.

Stop Negotiating

Now let me share how we resolved the pay gap at Viisi. When building a new salary model in 2017, our attention was drawn to 'negotiation'. If you peel layers from the salary topic, all that’s left is a hygiene factor. You must ensure a fair distribution so the topic is removed from employees’ daily agendas. Then they can focus on working together.

But in most companies, you are expected to negotiate your salary, not only when you start but also during appraisals. If you are not a good negotiator, you can be punished with a lower salary for your working life, all for a skill most don’t need in their daily work!

Studies on negotiation reveal disturbing results. For example, introverted women with non-Western backgrounds are the lowest earners, and confident, extroverted white men are the highest, for doing the same work. This results in training courses on job application and negotiation. But this symptom management doesn’t treat the cause. The real problem is the system is inherently wrong.

Employees who are not skilled negotiators can be punished for their whole work lives with lower salaries.
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People distrust a system that forces them to negotiate. So, we scrapped the negotiation process, both in the allocation process, and whenever our model needs adjustment. Any necessary changes are applied across the board for all positions and not to individuals with the biggest mouths. We also abolished classic job appraisal interviews. They were more about relationships with their managers and negotiating skills than actual performance.

As an employer, you are legally obliged to offer equal pay for equal work. But our experience says if pay is still negotiated, there’s little prospect of closing the wage gap.

Written by Marc-Peter Pijper
Marc-Peter Pijper
I work at Viisi. With our philosophy ‘People First, Customers Second, Shareholders Last’, we offer a workplace that enables everyone to work on the best version of themselves.
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